Increasing consumer demand for convenient, tasty and versatile foods in a range of economies across the world is ensuring that the dairy-product domination of the hydrocolloid market is set to continue.
The versatility of hydrocolloids, as well as their widespread availability, means that the demand for them to be used in various food items – as well as non-edible goods such as toothpaste and toiletries – is continuing to grow at a steady pace. In 2013, figures indicate that the hydrocolloid market was driven by North American demand for convenience, processed foods followed closely by Europe.
Globally, the market is expected to be worth around $7.9Bn by 2018, facilitated by a projected compound annual growth rate of 5% in the years leading up this. As well as performing exceptionally well as thickening agents, hydrocolloid substances also act as fat replacers in food products, by dispersing water and thus dispersing the fat content. Their water-soluble molecules allow them to utilised for many functions, and hydrocolloids can also coat foods or make the texture more palatable by changing the molecular structure.
Hydrocolloids have a vast array of applications for the food industry, including in stabilising and preserving confectionary, baked goods, meat, poultry and beverages. However, 2013 saw their use in dairy products emerge as the mainstay of the product’s capabilities, a trend which has been evident since as early as the 1930s when they were first applied on a mass basis to ice-cream, in order to prevent the formation of large ice crystals in the products and ensure the texture remained smooth.
The use of hydrocolloids in dairy and liquid-based products is also being increasingly exemplified through the drive across the US by consumers to include more protein in their diets. The addition of unrefined protein such as oats and seeds has long been a hindrance for the manufacturing companies behind them, as when added into convenience foods such as yoghurt drinks or milkshakes there is the potential for them to cause a gritty, unnerving texture.
However, hydrocolloids such as the seaweed-derived carrageenan work to provide stability in these protein-added products. Through holding the ingredients in suspension, these types of additional substances can even out the texture and improve the overall feel of the drink; a bonus for consumers and manufacturers alike. In fact, carrageenan is particularly effective in dairy products due to its ability to slow down the creaming of fat globules; gels are formed in milk-based products through the use of carrageenan with significantly lower concentrations than many other gelling agents. Around 55,000 tons of carrageenan and other hydrocolloid-based matter is derived out of one million tons of seaweed per year. It is estimated that this market alone is worth $85Mn.
Guar gum and xanthan gum are other hydrocolloids used in the application of dairy products due to their prevention of sedimentation in products with a low pH; they can also replace the texture of fat, producing a better low fat product with the same depth of flavour.
Although hydrocolloids still face opposition by many who do not wish to have any additives present in their food, as well as concerns over their safety for consumption, there is no doubt that they are currently – and have been for nearly a century – an integral part of our everyday consumption practices. Their use is not just limited to dairy products, and perhaps wider extraction will see markets such as those emerging Asia-Pacific reap the benefits of these versatile and practical substances.
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